BREAKING BAD & Non-Profit "Gatekeeping"

Breaking Bad LogoOne of the big winners at last night’s Emmys was AMC’s Breaking Bad, whose premise focuses around the idea that the most innocuous people may hide a malevolent streak. In the non-profit/social good world, such people abound (especially when it comes to tech or social media) – they often appear to be innocent, but their behavior often betrays their more basic ambitions.

They’re “gatekeepers”. They attempt to build their own Walter White-esque empire based on their social networks. And they’re doing more harm than good.

It starts off innocently enough – a casual chat at a networking meeting, or a how-do-you-do at a training, but as you become involved with these gatekeepers, several key inconsistencies arise:

  • They make give themselves vague professional titles like “social media guru”, “search optimization maven”, “open source facilitator” or “connector-in-chief”….but you never get a sense of what they actually do for a living;
  • They’re more interested in building alliances than making connections, often declining efforts to network with a wider array of individuals to focus more on “big ticket” opportunities;
  • They need to be the focus of attention – not only do they need to be the star, but any “competition” is automatically dismissed, preferably privately in whispered tones;
  • Whenever someone attempts to focus on an issue, organization, or premise in an objective, logical manner, the gatekeeper immediately dismisses them as being “too negative”, or as a “hater”, rather than focusing on making something work; and
  • They tend to focus more on their inner circle, and make claim to know their “community” as if it is a monolothic, never-evolving group.

Much like Walter White, the non-profit “gatekeeper” is concerned with their own CNow - CBOTperceived power and “empire”. In the non-profit/social good field, this can be exceptionally hazardous as many organizations struggle to receive services, and “gatekeepers” only serve to make the field unfriendly to those wishing to engage and build collaborations. It can be frustrating, counterproductive, and ultimately, leads into nothing more than conflict and confusion. Given the trends towards greater professional accountability in non-profits, and a move towards non-centralized networks, the gatekeeper’s unwillingness to share their knowledge – to hoard it and avoid fully engaging the entire community – only serves to drain mission-driven organizations of time, talent, and ultimately, goodwill.

But what’s the alternative, you may ask? Consider the idea of becoming an ambassadorUnlike a gatekeeper, the ambassador serves as less of an overseer and more as a direct peer. Ambassadors assist in navigating the field, sharing their resources freely because they understand that building collaboration means seeing people as ends and not means. In the non-profit field, taking a more humanistic and person-centered approach is a natural, and serving as honorary ambassadors assists in fostering trust, acceptance, and ultimately, a willingness to work with others. Unlike gatekeepers, ambassadors believe that the free exchange of ideas – and critical examination of ideas – ultimately serves everyone, because only then are connections truly established, placing the hard-earned realism of ambassadors over the snarky “haters gonna hate” attitude of gatekeepers.

And all this from a cable show – just imagine….

Your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below, or please contact me personally via Linked In or e-mail.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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